Environmentalists Challenge Federal Oil and Gas Leasing

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In a move meant to attempt to curb oil and gas leasing on federal lands in the west, environmentalists are challenging the federal government's leasing of tens of thousands of acres of federal lands in New Mexico for oil and gas development. Specifically, in a lawsuit filed with the United States District Court in New Mexico, Amigos Bravos, et al. v. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), environmental groups claim leases signed by the federal government and oil and gas companies in 2008 to open more than 60,000 acres of federal land for oil and gas development must be set aside because officials did not quantify the impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from these leases on global warming.

This failure to weigh the potential GHG impacts of this oil and gas development is alleged to be a violation of provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 which requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of their decisions, mitigate the impacts and consider less harmful alternatives prior to approving federal actions.

If successful, global warming considerations and impacts would potentially have to be quantified and reviewed by federal agencies prior to any final determination on whether to approve a lease on federal lands. Such a decision could also impact newly approved federal leases for new domestic drilling operations in the west and other parts of the country. The precedent set by such a decision could also impact states who have enacted equivalent state NEPA statutes as well.

The case comes as the White House Council on Environmental Quality is conducting a review of its standing guidance to federal agencies for how to address GHG impacts when conducting reviews under NEPA.

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